For Immediate Release
Adam Keats, (415) 632-5304
Land Speculator Michael Winer Wins 2009 Rubber Dodo Award
His Wall St. Firm Pushing Largest Developments in California and Florida Imperiling Dozens of Endangered Species, Including Condors on Tejon Ranch
LOS ANGELES - The Center for Biological
Diversity announced today that the winner of its third annual Rubber
Dodo Award is Michael Winer, portfolio manager for the giant
real-estate investment firm Third Avenue Management, LLC ("TAREX").
The Rubber Dodo is awarded each year to the person who has done the
most to drive endangered species extinct. The 2007 winner was
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne; the 2008 winner was Alaska
Governor Sarah Palin.
Winer is deserving of the 2009 award for
his leadership of TAREX, the largest stockholder in companies
developing the largest pieces of private land remaining in Southern
California and Florida. These regions are also home to some the
highest numbers of endangered species in North America. In
California, TAREX is pushing the Tejon Ranch Company to pave over
thousands of acres of federally designated California condor
habitat. In Florida, TAREX is pushing the St. Joe Company to flood
tens of thousands of acres of the Florida Panhandle with high-end
"Under Winer's money-obsessed leadership,
TAREX has become the poster child for unsustainable,
endangered-species-killing sprawl," said Adam Keats, director of the
Center's Urban Wildlands Program. "He specializes in finding
massive, remote estates far from urban centers and turning them into
a sea of condos, malls, golf courses, and resorts. There is good
reason that even Wall Street commonly calls TAREX a ‘real-estate
In California, Winer has been a driving
force behind the Tejon Ranch Company's bid to build two new cities
50 miles north of Los Angeles. Tejon is the largest parcel of
private land in California and the last remaining unprotected
wilderness-quality land in the region. The Tejon development has
been likened to dropping a city the size of Boulder, Colorado into
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
"Mr. Winer, more than almost any other
single individual, is responsible for the reckless speculative
investment strategies that have led to the current development
pressure facing Tejon Ranch," said Keats. "If Tejon Mountain Village
gets built, our children will very likely never be able to witness
the majesty of the California condor soaring over its ancient core
habitat. Meanwhile, we'll all be stuck holding the bill for the
project's smog, traffic, water use, and wildfires, while Mr. Winer
and his investors make off with the profits."
In Florida, Winer has targeted the
relatively remote Florida Panhandle, making TAREX the largest
investor in the St. Joe Company, which owns 800,000 acres there. In
order to leapfrog over existing development areas, St. Joe has
pushed the Federal Aviation Administration to build a new airport in
the middle of its private lands.
Ignoring the impact to endangered
species, Winer and TAREX boast that the airport is "going to have a
significant impact on the development of northwest Florida, not to
mention the area around the airport that is all owned by St. Joe...
northwest Florida is ideally suited to benefit from that: it's less
expensive, less crowded and there's not a whole lot more to be
developed in any other coastal region of Florida."
Background on Tejon
From condors to kit foxes, as many as 20
state- and federally listed species - and many others found nowhere
else on Earth - make their homes on California's Tejon Ranch.
Covering more than 270,000 contiguous acres from the Transverse
Ranges foothills across the Antelope Valley, over the southern
Sierra mountains and back down onto the San Joaquin Valley floor,
the ranch is located at the convergence of five geomorphic provinces
and four floristic regions - the only location of its kind in
California. It houses federally designated California condor
critical habitat, hosts 23 known types of plant communities, and
serves as an "oak laboratory" for more than one-third of all
California oak species. Unfortunately, this astoundingly diverse
landscape could be the future site of widespread sprawl
The ranch's owner, Tejon Ranch Company,
has already built an energy plant and an industrial warehouse
complex, and is now planning three additional developments that
would seriously compromise the land's ecological integrity. Tejon
Mountain Village would convert 28,500 pristine acres of crucial
condor habitat in Kern County into a sprawling resort. The
Centennial Project, proposed for north Los Angeles County, would
pave more than 11,000 acres of grasslands, woodlands, scrublands,
and wildflower fields, replacing them with 23,000 homes and 14
million square feet of commercial development. Finally, the Tejon
East Industrial Complex would destroy 1,100 acres that comprise a
key wildlife linkage along the San Joaquin Valley floor, including
habitat for the threatened San Joaquin kit fox.
Tejon Ranch has a long history of
hostility to efforts to bring the endangered California condor back
from extinction. While in the 1980s the last remaining wild condors
were captured on Tejon Ranch, a decade later the company sued the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to block condor reintroduction near
the ranch and to have any reintroduced birds listed as a
nonessential, experimental population without full federal
But in a show of environmental concern,
in 2008 Tejon Ranch Company agreed, in exchange for securing several
environmental groups' non-opposition to its development plans, to
grant conservation easements to about 160,000 of its 270,000 total
acres. Even though almost all of this conservation area is
un-developable, being too steep, rugged, or remote, the agreement
has given a "green sheen" to Tejon's noxious development plans.
Meanwhile, the fate of the condor in its historical wild habitat
hangs in the balance of Tejon's development plans.
The Center has proposed that, rather than
becoming yet another monument to the continuation of a speculative
real estate bubble, Tejon Ranch should be preserved as a new
national or state park and preserve, protecting a bounty of native
plant and animal communities, cultural and historic features, and
scenic vistas. See www.savetejonranch.org.
Background on the Dodo
In 1598, Dutch sailors landing on
the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless,
three-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original
scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary
scientists use the less defamatory Raphus
cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it's the dodo - the
most famous extinct species on Earth. It evolved
over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually
lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits,
nuts, and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear
of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying
them to Mauritius.
Its trusting nature led to its rapid
extinction. By 1681, the dodo was extinct, having been hunted and
outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques, and
pigs. Humans logged its forest cover and pigs uprooted and ate
much of the understory vegetation.
The origin of the
name dodo is unclear. It likely came from
the Dutch word dodoor, meaning "sluggard," the
Portuguese word doudo, meaning "fool" or "crazy," or the
Dutch word dodaars meaning "plump-arse" (that
nation's name for the little grebe).
The dodo's reputation as a foolish,
ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very
plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal's
reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis
Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Based on
skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings,
scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than
commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were
accidentally produced by overfeeding captive birds.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.